By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
Judging by the gorgeous imagery in “Les Parisiens”, his first photo book, Supachai Ketkaroonkul was right all along to resist the lure of digital technology and the temptation to do more with colour.
The photos – all shot on black-and-white film – are on view at Bar Bali Bistro on Bangkok’s Phra Arthit Road throughout this month.
“This film camera is right for me,” Supachai insists of the Leica M2 model he bought in Paris for 500 euros (Bt19,000), lens included.
“Analogue and digital cameras are like cars with manual and automatic transmissions – they can both be exciting to use and drive, but the feeling is quite different. But, like a car with manual transmission, the older style of camera gives you more control.”
Supachai also differs from most photographers these days in that he doesn’t rely on a great deal of equipment.
“The early French masters had just the one camera with no extras, but they came up with the greatest shots,” he says. “I want to be as proficient as them, so I have to be able to make do with what I have.”
The famous 1932 picture by Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Man Jumping over a Puddle”, was captured in one barely planned instant, the “decisive moment” for which Cartier-Bresson was renowned. “A photographer today would use multiple frames, caught in a one-second burst,” says Supachai.
As to his preference for black and white images, Supachai explains that it too allows for greater control.
“I was studying still photography and the use of colour, lighting, texture and composition. When the film came back from the lab, the prints didn’t look the same as what I’d photographed. I’d gone for silhouettes and they’d been adjusted to clarify the detail. I’d used a filter to lend a yellow tint but the shots were adjusted to normal colour.
“That’s when I decided to focus on black and white, because I could control it myself.”
Sommadhi Publishing House has issued “Les Parisiens” as a hardcover collection of more than 150 photographs dating from the time Supachai was studying and working in Paris – and also marking the 10th anniversary of his return to Thailand.
The handsome, buckram-wrapped cover carries a price tag of Bt1,200. At the back is an interview with the photographer in which he sheds light on the individual images.
“Paris is one of the world’s most photographed cities. It’s always crowded with tourists,” Supachai says. “This is my first photo book about a place, a small view of Paris. It’s set out like a movie, telling a story without sound or narration.”
He acknowledges the risk of marketing a pricey book of photos on a subject that’s unfamiliar to most Thais.
“People generally prefer watching movies they understand rather than more difficult ones, and there’s a strong possibility that people won’t comprehend what this book is presenting, with just photos, no matter how beautiful they think the photos are. But the publisher evaluated the financial risk and still wanted to bring out a good photo book.”
Featured in the book and the exhibition, “Basilique du Sacre-Coeur” is Supachai’s shot of the Roman Catholic basilica that’s among Paris’ chief tourist attractions.
“I took this in the sunshine of a winter morning,” he says. “I was waiting for someone to walk into the frame, and fortunately a man carrying his bicycle appeared and walked up the steps to the church. Here I’m saying that it isn’t just a place for tourists, but also for the locals.”
His view of “Rue de Rennes” centres on a coffee shop.
“I saw a man smoking and reading a book inside, just part of the daily lives of Parisians, who usually don’t stay in their apartments,” Supachai says. “They spend their time at the bistros, reading, working or chatting.
“At first I couldn’t see his face through the window. By chance there was a man in a black jacket standing at the traffic lights and his shadow reduced the reflection. It was the shot I’d been waiting for.”
Supachai has an alternative name for his photo “Quai de Valmy”.
“I call it ‘James Dean’. I had a quick glimpse of a man with his hands in his trouser pockets walking past me just after the rain had stopped. It reminded me of a movie poster of the American actor. I turned around and ran back across the bridge to get the shot, another lucky moment.
“Honestly, this picture reflects my feelings of loneliness. I have a wife and children but I have no friends, so I could sense this man’s loneliness. That’s my romantic side coming out.”
“Musee de l’Orangerie” appears on the book cover.
“The feeling is similar to that of Claude Monet’s water lilies paintings. I was walking around the pond with my children and noticed a couple who might have been romancing or maybe reconciling. I felt the emotion of their interaction and loved the tones of the background. It’s like a work of art.”
“Rue Montorgueil” was taken near Supachai’s home.
“I waited for the right moment, for the girl to bend the shy boy’s head down so she could rest her cheek against his,” he says. “It has their innocence, the human interaction and the city. Actually it’s an accidental double exposure – one shot of buildings and the other of the boy and girl. But it’s still a good picture.”
As well as Cartier-Bresson, Supachai has drawn inspiration from Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Raymond Depardon, all chiefly documentary photographers and photojournalists.
“Cartier-Bresson would find a visually arresting setting and then patiently wait for that ‘decisive moment’ to arrive. Doisneau photographed huge groups of people. Depardon was interested in recording his memories of places.”
Asked whether a career in photography is financially viable nowadays, Supachai says the digital era has made it less so.
“Being a photographer was once a good career, but technology has undermined the print media, so the newspapers and magazines are collapsing. Digital photography doesn’t require the same skills, either.
“So now you see photographers having to do something else to earn a living, such as designing websites or blogging and finding different ways to promote their products.
“It’s not going to change me, though. I still prefer film to digital cameras.”
His best at the bistro
- Find out more about Supachai’s book and exhibition, both titled “Les Parisiens”, at (094) 552 0559.